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A Raspberry to My Anarchist Friends on the Cultural Left…

5 Nov

…whose sanctimonious claim to sole arbiter status over discursive racism is worth humbling, and whose uncritically inherited antipathy to Marxism (not to mention European Social Democracy) is worth picking at.

From Foucault’s 1975-76 lectures at the Collège de France, published as Society Must Be Defended:

The most racist forms of socialism were, therefore, Blanquism of course, and then the Commune, and then anarchism—much more so than social democracy, much more so than the Second International, and much more so than Marxism itself. Socialist racism was liquidated in Europe only at the end of the nineteenth century, and only by the domination of social democracy (and, it has to be said, by the reformism that was bound up with it)…and by a number of processes such as the Dreyfus affair in France…Until the Dreyfus affair, all socialists, or at least the vast majority of socialists, were basically racists.” (262-263)


30 May

Did anyone else hear about the xkcd wikipedia challenge and immediately think of Louis CK’s routine, “Why?” ?

(skip to 6:19)

…which, in turn, should remind us of David Hills’s unsurpassed definition of philosophy:

“The ungainly attempt to tackle questions that come naturally to children, using methods that come naturally to lawyers.”

Readily accepting reality…

26 May

“There’s no need to look for a Chimera, or a cat with three legs,” Treviranus was saying as he brandished an imperious cigar. “We all know that the Tetrarch of Galilee is the possessor of the finest sapphires in the world. Someone, intending to steal them, came in here by mistake. Yarmolinsky got up; the robber had to kill him. What do you think?”

“It’s possible, but not interesting,” Lönnrot answered. “You will reply that reality hasn’t the slightest need to be of interest. And I’ll answer you that reality may avoid the obligation to be interesting, but that hypotheses may not. In the hypothesis you have postulated, chance intervenes largely. Here lies a dead rabbi; I should prefer a purely rabbinical explanation; not the imaginary mischances of an imaginary robber.”

–Jorge Luis Borges, Death and the Compass (1942)

A Post for the Graduating

10 May

I advise you all to read chapter 17 from P.G. Wodehouse’s Right Ho, Jeeves.  It contains what is doubtless the most memorable commencement speech in all of English literature.  I’ve excerpted the central chunk below the fold.

Continue reading

Two Quotes on Love

18 Mar

For this is wrong, if anything is wrong: not to enlarge the freedom of a love with all the inner freedom one can summon. We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily; we do not need to learn it.

Rilke, Requiem For a Friend. (1908)

Klimt, Gustav. Love. 1895. Oil on canvas.

It is true: we love life, not because we are used to living, but because we are used to loving.

There is always a little madness in love. But there is also always a little reason in madness.

And even to me, as one who is fond of life, it seems that butterflies and soap-bubbles, and what is like them among humans, know the most about happiness.

—Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. (1883)

Communism? by any other name…?

16 Mar

(The dawn of SPRING BREAK (woo!) signals that )I’m about halfway done grinding through a seminar on Marxism. To supplement the all primary source course readings, I kept a copy of Tariq Ali’s wide-reaching and powerfully written little book, The Idea of Communism, by the toilet for the month of February and got through it roughly 1.5 times. (I don’t welcome speculation on what this says about either my reading speed or the health of my bowels.) Anyway, the question of whether “communism,” both as word and concept, can any longer be an effective rallying point for leftist radicals seeking to supplant capitalism with something more sustainable, democratic and humane has come up repeatedly in conversations with classmates and fellow activists alike over the past few weeks. And I often find myself referencing a passage Ali quotes from Lucio Magri (pp. 5-6), though I’m not yet certain what I really think of it. Here it is, plus the subsequent paragraph from the original piece.

At one of the crowded meetings held in 1991 to decide whether or not to change the name of the Italian Communist Party, a comrade posed this question to Pietro Ingrao: ‘After everything that has happened and all that is now taking place, do you still believe the word “communist” can be used to describe the kind of large, democratic mass party that ours has been, and is, and which we want to renew so as to take it into government?’ Ingrao, who had already laid out in full the reasons for his dissent and proposed that an alternative course be taken, replied—not altogether in jest—with Brecht’s famous parable of the tailor of Ulm. This 16th-century German artisan had been obsessed by the idea of building a device that would allow men to fly. One day, convinced he had succeeded, he took his contraption to the Bishop and said: ‘Look, I can fly’. Challenged to prove it, the tailor launched himself into the air from the top of the church roof, and, naturally, ended up in smithereens on the paving stones below. And yet, Brecht’s poem suggests: a few centuries later men did indeed learn to fly.

Ingrao’s reply was not just witty but well-founded. How many centuries, how many bloody struggles, advances and defeats did it take for the capitalist system to reach—in a Western Europe that had initially been more backward and barbaric than other parts of the world—an unprecedented degree of economic efficiency, and for it to acquire new, more open political institutions, a more rational culture? What irreducible contradictions were to mark liberalism over those years, between the solemn ideals—common human nature, freedom of speech and thought, popular sovereignty—and the practices that constantly belied them: slavery, colonial domination, expulsion of peasants from common land, wars of religion? Contradictions whose social reality was legitimated in thought: the idea that freedom could and should only be granted to those who, by virtue of property and culture—even race and colour—were capable of exercising it wisely; and the correlative notion that ownership of goods was an absolute, inviolable right which therefore precluded universal suffrage.

–Lucio Magri, The Tailor of Ulm


Edit: Watch video of the talk Mr. Ali gave last November to promote The Idea of Communism at the Harvard Bookstore here. Dude kind of snubbed me when I went to get my book signed, but we’ll forgive our grumpy elder comrade.

Two Quotes on Excess

20 Nov

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

–William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Exhausted Maenads after the Dance

Alma-Tadema, Lawrence. Exhausted Maenads after the Dance. 1874 . Oil on canvas.

The mother of excess is not joy, but joylessness.

–Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human